Chumblies

I watched the new edition of the 1965 Doctor Who story Galaxy 4. Only one full episode and 5 minutes from the middle of the 1st episode are still available, so this is an animated reconstruction with the original soundtrack added. The surviving original footage is included as extras. The reconstruction comes in both coloured and monochrome versions.

The story is a simple 4-parter set on a desolute remote planet that explodes at the end and thus plays no further role in Who history. There are no recurring monsters or plots involved and the 2 alien races we encounter are never heard from again. Because this story is not set on contemporary Earth, the animators can’t do any tricks of inserting interesting messages or images into the background as they did on the adaptations of Evil Of The Daleks or The Faceless Ones.

As we can hear in the soundtrack, the actors were a bit rushed back in the days when the show put out 40 episodes a year and both William Hartnell and the others stumble on a few lines or talk over each other, although they are not significantly worse than any other 60s TV acting.

The adaptation is quite free and does not attempt to follow closely even the arrangement of scenes that we still have clips of. During Maaga’s quick description of the brutally eugenicist and hierarchical nature of Drahvin society, we get several different images, whilst the original had a single line of sight.

The TARDIS interior scenes are similar to those of surviving footage from the Hartnell years: a rather larger space than 70s and 80s viewers are used to, and often featuring other items of equipment in use in the console room, as well as a rather different scanner unit. It is also assumed that the TARDIS walls are permeable to ambient sound and transmit bumps in the correct positions relative to the Police Box shell.

This was the start of the show’s 3rd season, so by now things have settled down to the model that will continue for the decades: the Doctor is unambiguously good and heroic and the central positive protagonist. That wasn’t the case in the first season. We have lost all the original companions so there is Ian and Barbara competing for the viewer’s admiration and empathy. They have been replaced by Vicki and Steven, who are both astronauts from the future and completely familiar with space travel, aliens, and many details and devices the Doctor reveals.

He describes himself as a “scientist” and states they are on a “scientific expedition” although at this point he cannot control where the TARDIS lands and has to work out where the point of arrival is afterwards. When he says the planet reminds him of Xeros, and Vicki asks if they have “jumped a time track” again, that is a back reference to the story The Space Museum near the end of season 2.

The first strange beings to appear in the story are the wobbly robots that Vicki dubs “chumblies”. These are a bit more like giant plastic light fittings trying to evoke jellyfish in their original appearance.

Whenever they are on screen we get weirdy electronic oscillator sounds, as if these are Delia Derbyshire’s own Clone Army.

The alien races in the story are the all-female fascist empire of the Drahvins (we hear that they use a small number of males for breeding purposes, but we never see them), represented by an expedition led by Maaga, a fiercesome but ultimately hopeless and helpless character, doomed to never escape the tiny world her bad decisions had taken her to. There is a minor Who tradition of such baddies, notably including Rorvik in Warriors’ Gate.

The other aliens are the grotesque Rills, controllers of the chumblies.

The plot is a struggle for survival as the planet is due to blow up at the end of episode 4 and only one of these spaceships is going to be serviceable in time, if at all. Maaga has lied to her crew, who are too stupid to work it out for themselves (another minor Who tradition: militaristic races are defeated by the limited intelligence of their foot soldiers and middling officers). The Rills rather admire the Doctor for his high-minded pursuit of scientific truth and would prefer him to escape the disaster if they can’t manage it themselves. Neither party seriously entertains the idea of capturing the TARDIS even though they understand it is also a spaceship.

Puzzles:

  1. Can the chumblies detect movement all around them, or only just ahead? This seems to change when the plot needs it to.
  2. Do the Rills realise that they have an unconscious Drahvin squadette on board their ship?

In the final minutes we get a taster sequence from the next episode, Mission To The Unknown, the unique 1-part story that did not feature either the Doctor or any companions. This existed to set up the story of the epic Daleks’ Master Plan. That is the Hartnell story we’d really like to see reconstructed, as long as they miss out the notorious “Christmas episode”, with its crossover with Dixon Of Dock Green. Anyone who thinks the show after 2005 had gimmicks or pointless guest appearances has no idea what crimes were done 40 years earlier.

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